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‘I don’t know where to even start:’ Sullivan recovers from deadly tornado

SULLIVAN, Ind. (WISH) — Officials in this town near the Illinois line said Saturday it will be a day or two before they know the exact extent of the damage from Friday night.

Three people were killed when a tornado ripped through the south end of town. Ted Funk, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Indianapolis office, said preliminary damage estimates suggest a tornado packing winds anywhere from 111 to 165 miles per hour, putting it in the EF2 to EF3 range on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. He said the tornado touched down in Illinois and then crossed the Wabash River into Indiana, cutting a swath roughly 10 miles long and between an eighth and a quarter mile wide in the Hoosier State.

The twister obliterated Randy Vester’s home and workshop and likely totaled his new motorcycle and Jeep. He said he had taken his son to French Lick for spring break when the storm hit.

“Any normal Friday, we would have been here at this time,” he said.

Vester was able to make his own housing arrangements for himself and his son. He spent Saturday afternoon sifting through what was left, recovering items such as a pair of jeans and his son’s roller skates.

“Right now, I don’t know where to even start. I mean, just going through it and looking at it is pretty much all I’m doing right now,” he said.

Mayor Clint Lamb said officials are still assessing damage and wrapping up search and rescue operations. He said officials don’t want volunteers to flood the area just yet.

“So many people want to help but they just don’t know how,” he said. “I guess my best advice would be stand by and we’ll definitely announce our needs over the coming days.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb declared a state of emergency in both Sullivan and Johnson counties. He said he has spoken with FEMA about getting federal resources into the area as well.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Holcomb said “This memory will be seared into our minds forever.”

The governor said he would activate the National Guard for storm relief if needed, though the state already has sent in substantial civilian resources. State Police Supt. Doug Carter said extra state troopers have been assigned to the area over the coming weeks and months.

Lamb said anyone who lost their home is eligible for a voucher through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority that will cover up to 30 days’ worth of hotel stays. A shelter for displaced people has also been set up at Abundant Grace House of Prayer and anyone still looking to be reunited with loved ones can come to city hall at 110 N Main St.

For long-term recovery, Lamb said homeowners should contact their insurer as soon as possible. If they don’t have insurance, he said to contact the Red Cross.

Lamb said anyone who wants to donate to relief efforts can make a tax-deductible donation to the Wabash Valley Community Foundation. The organization has set up a dedicated storm relief fund.